The Web was always supposed to be democratic. But for all the good government oversight resources online, local politics often fail to attract the spotlight of transparency. After Hallwatch went under, Philadelphians were left without a resource for hard data about their elected officials. It’s an issue that certainly interests nonprofit, non-partisan citizens’ lobby organization Common Cause PA. Enough so that the organization has harnessed legislative data API Cicero, the brainchild of Callowhill GIS development company Avencia, to launch Our Philadelphia. The Web site explores “the role of money in local politics and allow users to investigate these issues for themselves.” Made possible by the Samuel S. Fels Fund, the site shines the light on local campaign contributions for city legislators. Users can create custom RSS feeds, search by address, as powered by Cicero, and track information and content relevant to other keyword searches. So, for example, a Frankford resident might find it entirely peculiar that the top contributor to the campaign of his city Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez is energy drink manufacturer Cintron Beverage, to the tune of $21,500. While it now serves only Philadelphia, Common Cause intends to expand the database to the five-county region and include more original reporting, says James Browning, the direct of development for the group. The profiles of top donors for each elected official is the result of a year-long campaign by the group to make local campaign finance records more accessible, according to a release [PDF]. “Extracting the data from the city’s and the state’s equally crude electronic and paper archives was a job in itself,” Browning wrote in an e-mail to Technically Philly. Other features are expected to be added to the site in coming months. Avencia’s Cicero API, which is used to generate the address specific data culling, has made its rounds among political oversight groups. According to a release: “it currently feeds elected district boundaries and elected official information into several public and private web applications for newspapers, election watchdog groups, philanthropic foundations, unions, arts organizations and private commercial firms.” Perhaps the clearest example is Avencia’s partnership with the Committee of Seventy on online cudgel: the Redistricting the Philadelphia Region Web site, which lets citizens, “based on their address, look up their political districts, visualize them on a map and learn about the process of redistricting.” Avencia also recently announced that it has extended ERSI’s ArcGIS Flex API to introduce support for OpenStreetMap, an editable map of the world, in its planning and prioritization software. Read more here [PDF].
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